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The rules for this defence are based on the case M'Naghten (1843). In this
case the defendant suffered with extreme paranoia and so tried to kill a
member of the government, however he killed his secretary. Due to his
current mental state he was found not guilty. He was placed into a mental
hospital, although this was not due to the verdict. This led to a public outcry
due to the fact that he could be found not guilty and did not have to go to a
mental hospital. The House of Lords as a result had to answer a variety of
questions on the law of insanity.
The main rule laid down was "in all cases every man is presumed to be sane
and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes".
Furthermore the definition of insanity was laid down by this case: "the defendant must be labouring under
such a defect of reason, from the disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he
was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong". This means that the
A defect of reason
Which resulted due to the disease of the mind
Causing the defendant not to know the nature and quality of the act or not to know he was
The burden of proving insanity is down to the defence on a "balance of probabilities". Remember that
insanity cannot be used on cases of strict liability. This was evident in the case of DPP v H (1997).
Defect of Reason.
This means that the defendant's powers of reasoning must be impaired.
If the defendant is capable of using their reasoning then they cannot
plead insanity as they lack defect of reason. This was decided in Clarke
(1972) where it was held that the defect of reason must be more than
absent-mindedness or confusion. In this case the defendant went to the
supermarket and picked up three items and the left the store. She was
charged with theft but claimed that she lacked the mens rea as she had
no recollection of picking the items up. She said she was suffering with
absent-mindedness and depression and so the trial judge stated that
this was a case of insanity. However, when appealed to the Court of
Appeal (CoA) it was held that simple absentmindedness was not enough and so the conviction was quashed.
Disease of the mind.
The defect of reason must be caused by a disease of the mind. NOTE! This is a legal term, rather than a
CASE. FACTS. WHAT WAS HELD.
Kemp D suffered with hardening of the D was found "not guilty by reason of insanity". The CoA
(1956) arteries causing him to have upheld this stating that the law was not concerned with the
temporary loss of consciousness. brain but with the mind. Kemp's mental faculties and
During this he attacked his wife. reasoning were affected by his condition and so he came
into the definition of insanity.
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Sullivan D suffered with epilepsy and The House of Lords (HoL's) ruled that the source of the
(1984) during a fit he attacked an disease is irrelevant. It could be functional or organic (as in
80-year-old man. epilepsy) and it can be permanent or temporary. (NOTE: D
pleaded guilty to s.47 of the OATPA (1861) due to not
wanting to plead insanity).…read more
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The special verdict.
Prior to 1991 the defendant, if successfully raising the defence of
insanity, would be sent to a mental hospital. However, this appeared
unfair for particular disorders. Therefore, in 1991 the Criminal
Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act brought about other
sentences for the judge to impose:
A hospital order (with or without restrictions)
A supervision order
An absolute discharge.
These rules appear much fairer.…read more
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those acting upon irresistible impulses could use the defence of insanity. However, the Government issued
the defence of diminished responsibility.
To remove the social stigma the Butler Committee in 1975 suggested that the verdict should be "not guilty
on evidence of a mental disorder".
Finally, the Law Commission in 1989 proposed that a defendant should be not guilty on evidence of a severe
mental disorder or severe mental handicap. NOTE: None of these proposals have been taken on board.…read more